Helmets

Bowled Over

Florida’s Bowl Games put up big numbers and the newest one has a special purpose.

Cure Bowl. Some decry the ever-expanding number of college football bowl games, while others point to the economic benefits for the host cities, the experience for the players and the entertainment value for students, alumni and other fans. But, the announcement last month of the new Cure Bowl, set to debut in 2015 in Orlando, reminded us that (with apologies to Dr. Seuss) bowl games, perhaps, mean a little bit more.

First unveiled back in mid-April, the new bowl game picked up added momentum last month when Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation — the nation’s largest auto retailer — signed on as the “name” sponsor of the game, which will feature teams from the American Athletic and Sun Belt conferences. The AutoNation Cure Bowl, organized by the Orlando Sports Foundation, will be played at the renovated Citrus Bowl stadium and televised on the CBS Sports Network.

And, while all bowl games raise money for charity, the AutoNation Cure Bowl is unique in that it will have a single focus: finding a cure for breast cancer. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation will be the main recipient of the bowl’s charitable contributions.

The Cure Bowl will become Florida’s ninth bowl game (the Miami Beach and Boca Raton bowls begin play this year) and the fifth in the Super Region.

The Name Game

Ever since the mid-1980s, bowls have rushed to line up corporate partnerships. Name sponsors pay handsomely for what they view as a strong marketing opportunity, which is vital to a game’s ability to offer attractive payouts to participating teams. The six Florida bowl games played last year paid out more than $60 million total to participating teams.

Recently, the corporate names have begun muscling out the original, civic-minded names. The 68-year-old Gator Bowl in Jacksonville is now the TaxSlayer Bowl, and the game played annually at Tropicana Field is on its fourth name in seven seasons of existence: the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.

A single move often can set off a chain of events. When Miami’s Orange Bowl announced that Capital One would become its title sponsor this season, Orlando’s flagship game saw its 14-year relationship with the financial giant end. The game reclaimed its original moniker, found a new partner, and the former Capital One Bowl has become the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.

That left the Tempe, Ariz.,-based Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in the lurch. For now, that game is doing something quaint: it’s foregoing a name sponsor. What began in 1989 as the Copper Bowl is now, simply, the Cactus Bowl.

Let’s see how long that lasts.

Renovation Complete

Before leaving bowl games, it should be noted that much-anticipated $208 million renovation of Orlando’s Citrus Bowl stadium was set to be completed before Thanksgiving. A cornerstone of Mayor Buddy Dyer’s vision of a first-class sports, arts and entertainment complex in downtown Orlando, the stadium hosts not only three bowl games and occasional other neutral-site college football games, it also will be home to the Orlando City Lions’ inaugural Major League Soccer season next year.

UCF
Just as Blake Bortles excelled on the field, UCF has excelled at graduating its athletes.

UCF Graduation Rates

The University of Central Florida clearly takes the “student” part of the term “student-athlete” very seriously. The university athletics program had a graduation success rate of 95 percent during the 2013-14 academic year, tops among public universities and tied for fifth overall. The Super Region’s other two universities playing football and other sports in the NCAA’s highest division also enjoyed considerable success. The University of Florida and the University of South Florida both had an 83-percent success rate.

Elsewhere in the Super Region, Stetson University posted a strong 91-percent rate.

Two of Florida’s other major powers also fared well. The University of Miami had a 92-percent graduation success rate while Florida State University enjoyed 84-percent success.

Strong success rates are important because NCAA rules now penalize institutions for failing to meet minimum graduation standards. Lost scholarships often equal fewer wins and, ultimately, less revenue for the penalized schools.

Preventing Concussions

The sports world is increasingly focusing on the long-term effect of concussions, and an Alachua company and The Corridor have teamed up with the University of Florida to conduct a unique study on the subject.

The $575,000 study, paid by a grant from Banyan Biomarkers and matching funds from The Corridor, is allowing UF researchers to place sensors inside the helmets of 30 Gator football players to study the full impact of collisions on the football field to better understood which hits lead to concussions.

The results will help allow for early intervention in a concussion situation and, of equal importance, to be certain a player is ready to return to the field after recovering.

TB Rays
Tampa Bay Rays will be looking to score big as they hire a new manager.

Money Talks

The recurring theme in baseball is that, to be competitive, a baseball team has to be from a big media market that can provide a lucrative local television contract and have a stadium that generates significant revenue. This year’s Kansas City Royals didn’t get the memo, pushing the far-wealthier San Francisco Giants to seven games before falling in the World Series.

Neither, for that matter, did the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, a team that came from nowhere to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history that year, and become only the fourth team in the expansion era to reach the World Series in its playoff debut (the Mets, Padres and Marlins were the other three).

Still, heartwarming as these little-team-makes-good stories are, it’s hard to deny that “big-market” teams enjoy some advantages. The most recent example is none other than the man behind the Rays’ phenomenal success in recent years: manager Joe Maddon.

Maddon surprised many observers last month when he exercised an out clause in his contract and abruptly left the Rays. The Rays, whose financial constraints are significant, already had found a way to ensure Maddon’s salary was in the top half of all major league managers. Not bad for a team with a problematic stadium in a media market outside the Top 10.

But, when Maddon became a free agent, a team in the number-three media market with one of the sports’ most legendary (and revenue-rich) stadiums — the Chicago Cubs — pounced quickly. Barely a week after his departure from the Rays, the Cubs signed Maddon to a contract that will make him among the five-highest paid managers in the game. The Cubs obviously hope Maddon can perf orm the same magic on the North Side that he performed in Tampa Bay.

There is a “rich” irony in all this. The Cubs have not been to a World Series since 1945, and in the intervening years have made the playoffs five times. That’s exactly one more time than the Rays, which didn’t even exist until 1998.